On Virginia Woolf and Mrs Dalloway
Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway was published on this day, 14 May, in 1925. In honour of this, we thought we’d offer a few little facts about this novel, and about Woolf herself.
The action of the book takes place over just one day – a ‘moment of June’ in 1923 – although there are flashbacks to events that occurred in the characters’ lives over the previous five years, in the immediate wake of WWI. The original title of the book was ‘The Hours’, a title that Michael Cunningham would go on to use for the title of his novel about Woolf, which weaves together events from Woolf’s own life and events from Mrs Dalloway. The book was filmed, in 2002, starring Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman (the latter of whom famously wore a prosthetic nose to portray Woolf).
Mrs Dalloway wasn’t the only novel Woolf wrote the action of which takes place on just one day. Her lesser-known last novel, Between the Acts (1941), also takes place over 24 hours, on the day when a village pageant is performed. The shadow of the coming war – this time, the Second World War – hangs over the novel, as it hung over the final months of Woolf’s life. Focusing on just one day was something that modernists like Woolf were especially fond of doing – compare James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), the action of which takes place on 16 June 1904 – because it allowed them to explore the mundane and everyday, and the ways in which characters’ thoughts, often random and inconsequential, come and go in the course of that day.
Nor was Mrs Dalloway the first novel to feature Mrs Dalloway: a character named Clarissa Dalloway had appeared ten years earlier in Woolf’s very first novel, The Voyage Out (1915). This novel, and Woolf’s second, Night and Day (1919), are much more conventional in style and structure than Mrs Dalloway and Woolf’s other ‘mature’ fiction, such as To the Lighthouse and The Waves. By the time she wrote Mrs Dalloway, she was using the famous ‘stream of consciousness’ technique that would characterise much of her fiction.
As a child, Woolf was nicknamed ‘the Goat’ by members of her family. Woolf was, of course, not a Woolf from birth: it was her married name. But nor was she born Virginia – at least not as her first given name. Her first name was Adeline, her middle name Virginia. She was born Adeline Virginia Stephen – daughter of respected man of letters Sir Leslie Stephen – in 1882.
There is only one surviving recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice. It’s from a BBC radio broadcast of 29 April 1937 and can be listened to here.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Viola van de Sandt’s Five Fascinating Facts about Virginia Woolf.